image: H&M's Conscious collection

image: H&M’s Conscious collection

“On June 15, 2017, H&M sent a truck with 1580 kilo [3483 pounds] cartons filled with garments for incineration” to a Danish waste disposal facility, according to a striking new investigation from Danish television channel TV2’s Operation X program. This is just a small part of larger practice by the Swedish fashion giant, per TV2, which has accused H&M of burning roughly 12 tons of garments every year over the past several years.

If the network’s allegations are, in fact, true (and H&M says they absolutely are not), they could prove a significant blow to H&M, which has widely publicized its sustainability efforts, which include a “conscious” collection and widespread recycling efforts.

According to TV2, which began investigating H&M in June, KARA/NOVEREN – a waste disposal company in Denmark – has incinerated over 60 tons of new, unworn apparel from H&M since 2013. These hundreds of thousands of garments consist of reusable/recyclable materials, Operation X has held.

IC Group (Peak Performance, Tiger of Sweden and By Malene Birger) and Bestseller (Vero Moda, Jack and Jones) was also mentioned in the program for burning 45 tons of garments last year.

H&M has spoken out in response to TV2’s investigation. A spokesman for the retailer stated on Monday: “The clothes featured in the program are stopped orders that had been sent to incineration because of mold or not complying with our strict chemical restrictions, which is [in] accordance with our routines for stopped orders.”

Operation X claims to have uncovered some of the exact same garments in H&M stores and had them tested for chemicals. “According to the tests, the [garments] sent for incineration did not contain any harmful levels of chemicals and normal deposits of bacteria, similar to what one would expect to [those] sold in stores,” investigators associated with TV2 revealed this week. 

H&M has since stated that the tests performed by Operation X differ from – and are less extensive than – those that it commissioned “external laboratories” to conduct. As of Monday, the retailer made the results of its tests – which revealed traces of mold and “increased levels of lead” – publicly available on its website.

The retailer’s spokesman further noted: “Circularity is at the core of our sustainability strategy and we work hard to ensure that we maximize the use and the value of our products in line with the principles of the circular economy and waste hierarchy.”

The H&M representative stated that “products that have not been sold late at full cost are offered to customers at favorable prices. We also have the opportunity to move goods between different stores and markets, as well as save products for the coming season. As a last option, we can also sell unsold products to external buyers.” 

As noted by FashionUnited, “This is not the first time that H&M stands accused of destroying usable clothing. In early 2010, the Swedish fashion retailer was accused of cutting up and dumping unwanted garments at a store on 35th Street in New York in a New York Times expose. At the time, H&M vowed that it would make sure these practices would never happen again.”

UPDATED (11/25/17): Per Bloomberg, a Swedish power plant is replacing coal with H&M garments. The combined heat and power station in Vasteras, northwest of Stockholm, is converting from oil- and coal-fired generation to become a fossil fuel-free facility by 2020. That means burning recycled wood and trash, including clothes H&M can’t sell.

”H&M does not burn any clothes that are safe to use,” Johanna Dahl, head of communications for H&M in Sweden, said by email. “However it is our legal obligation to make sure that clothes that contain mold or do not comply with our strict restriction on chemicals are destroyed.” 

* This article was initially published on October 18, 2017.